Labour’s plan to foist DEI on Britain
Keir Starmer’s Race Equality Act embodies all that is wrong with woke identity politics.
Keir Starmer’s Labour Party has a well-deserved reputation for u-turns. The man who campaigned to be Labour leader as a faux-Corbynite only to run the party like a New Labour tribute act is willing to junk any policy he thinks won’t endear him to the electorate or big business or whoever else his pre-election charm offensive is trained on this week. His £28-billion-a-year climate-investment pledge is the latest one to hit the bottom of the recycling bin. Meanwhile, it is striking that the policies Starmer seems most keen to cling on to may well be the worst of the lot.
So it is with his pledge to decarbonise the electricity grid by 2030. A plan he will no doubt expend huge amounts of time and money failing to achieve. And so it is with his Race Equality Act, which was unveiled this week following years of work in the background. I say unveiled. The details are still a bit thin. But what we do know suggests the proposed law would do nothing to solve racial inequality while ratcheting up racial tensions. Four years after he posed for that infamous photograph, ‘taking the knee’ in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter protests, Starmer seems poised to institutionalise BLM ideology with a technocratic gloss.
Of course, the Race Equality Act sounds like something only a monster could oppose. It would ‘enshrine in law the full right to equal pay for black, Asian and ethnic-minority people, as well as disabled people’, we’re told. But if you’re wondering why that wasn’t already the case, that is because it is already the case. It fell to the Tories’ no-nonsense equalities minister, Kemi Badenoch, to burst Labour’s bubble this week. ‘It is obviously already illegal to pay someone less because of their race’, she said.
Indeed, discrimination on the grounds of ‘colour, race, or ethnic or national origins’ was banned by the Race Relations Act. In 1965. What Labour is focussed on here is not really discrimination, but disparity. Not the conscious holding down of some groups and pushing up of others, but the existence of on-average differences in pay, health and education between different populations. Labour has effectively embraced the identitarian dictum that disparity is forever and always proof of discrimination. This theory is not only wrongheaded, it risks further dividing society by race while ignoring the very real inequalities that ail us.
When you hear the phrase ‘equal pay’ you naturally think of paying people equally for the same job. But that’s not what Labour is proposing here. It wants to bring pay protections for ethnic minorities on a par with those that currently exist for women under the Equality Act. In practice, this means, as the Telegraph notes, that women have the right not just to equal pay as most people would understand it, but to ‘equal pay for work of “equal value”’. ‘This means they are entitled to make a claim if they suspect they are being paid less than a man for a job deemed to have equal worth, even if it is technically a different role – for example, a cashier versus a warehouse worker’, it explains.
This also sounds fine in theory. But as Annabel Denham argues in the Spectator, this can lead to some absurd and damaging outcomes. Birmingham City Council has gone bankrupt after being forced to pay out hundreds of millions of pounds in equal-pay compensation, because teaching assistants, cleaners and catering staff didn’t receive certain bonuses but street sweepers, grave diggers and refuse collectors did. The reason this was deemed to constitute discrimination is because teaching assistants, cleaners and catering staff tend to be women, while street sweepers, grave diggers and bin men tend to be, well, men.
In this way, issues of pay and working conditions that should be settled by free choice and collective bargaining become matters of ‘indirect discrimination’, to be settled in court. I’m all for those teaching assistants, cleaners and catering staff getting a bonus as well, but does the fact that they didn’t receive one at first really constitute an act of sex discrimination? More likely, the bin mens’ bonuses were aimed at enticing people into important but unglamorous roles that the council was otherwise struggling to fill. Apply this model to race and you can see why Badenoch has said Labour’s plan would ‘set people against each other’ and create a ‘bonanza for dodgy activist lawyers’.
Then there’s Labour’s existing proposal to require large firms to publish figures on their ‘ethnicity pay gap’. Staff with 250 employees or more have been required to report their ‘gender pay gap’ stats since 2017. The numbers are so crude that they offer no meaningful insight into pay discrimination. As Kate Andrews has pointed out, they capture the ‘gender pay gap’ across entire companies, rather than between comparable roles within those companies, and they do not account for things like age or seniority. In essence, within this data, a 51-year-old male executive who has worked somewhere for 30 years isn’t sufficiently differentiated from a 21-year-old female trainee who has been there all of five minutes. So unless there is an identical distribution of men and women at every level of a business, the pay gap will yawn – even where men and women are being paid the same money for the same job.
These gender-pay-gap stats have done nothing to shine a light on sexist discrimination lurking in workplaces, but they have helped to sustain a fact-lite narrative that women are still being discriminated against en masse in 21st-century Britain. This is despite the fact that women out-earn men in their twenties and most of the pay gap comes down to women taking time out to have children or returning to work part-time. Thus, needless enmity is sown between the sexes for no discernible reason or benefit. Meanwhile, calls for more accessible childcare, which might help those women who want to return swiftly to the workforce, are drowned out by pious lectures about rampant sexism.
Now Labour is planning to take this winning formula and apply it to race. What could possibly go wrong? Well, as Inaya Folarin Iman argues, mandatory ‘ethnicity pay gap’ reporting could easily end up damning firms as racist for no other reason than their local demographics: ‘Take Hartlepool in County Durham: more than 95 per cent white, with an older-than-average population. If a company there finds most of its ethnic-minority employees happen to be younger, to have qualified more recently and thus work in more junior roles than their white colleagues, would it be fair to brand that company racist when its “ethnicity pay gap” figures produce a result [Labour] doesn’t like?’
Once again, disparity does not in itself demonstrate discrimination. What’s more, there are many disparities that don’t fit the identitarian script. Chinese and Indian Brits currently earn significantly more than white Brits on average. White British kids on free school meals fare the worst at school, with the exception of Traveller and Roma kids. Black African kids on free school meals do significantly better than black Caribbean kids on free school meals. If this is ‘structural racism’, then it’s incredibly wily and sophisticated – picking some unlikely winners and losers just to throw us off the scent.
There are various reasons why some groups are thriving while others are struggling that have nothing to do with racism or discrimination, from geography to family structure to – above all – social class. But race is the prism through which every issue must now be understood, it seems. We must deny any progress has been made and ignore any inconvenient facts that do not buttress The Narrative.
It’s telling that we only talk about disparities when they point in a certain direction. There has been much discussion about racial disparities in health following the pandemic. Indeed, the Race Equality Act was borne out of a review Labour commissioned into the ‘disproportionate impact of Covid-19 on black, Asian and minority-ethnic communities’, led by Baroness Lawrence. Undoubtedly, Covid hit ethnic-minority Brits harder on average than whites – although that disproportion appeared to wane somewhat over time. But that doesn’t mean it was down to racism, ‘structural’ or otherwise. Many diseases and ailments impact upon different groups in different ways. White people are twice as likely to get lung cancer, for instance, but black people are twice as likely to get prostate cancer. How can one be structural racism, but not the other? Why?
The statistics are the statistics. The question is how you interpret them; the lens through which you view them and whether this actually helps to explain or solve the problem at hand. Nowadays, much of the great and good simply reach for the one labelled ‘race’, spout the usual clichés about ‘how much further we have to go’ and then bask in the retweets. But this often explains nothing and gets us nowhere. Was the racial disparity during Covid down to ‘structural racism’, or the fact that ethnic minorities tend to live in cities, in multigenerational homes and tend to work blue-collar jobs you can’t do on a laptop? Is racism to blame for this deadly cocktail of Covid risk factors?
Dr Raghib Ali, an adviser to the government during Covid, was certainly unconvinced. Early on in the pandemic, he took brickbats for challenging the then fashionable claim that racism explained the disparity. Doing so did little to help people conduct their ‘own personal risk assessments’, Ali argued. After all, there were plenty of working-class white people living in crowded homes and out working during the pandemic, just as there were plenty of middle-class minorities who worked from home. ‘It doesn’t make sense to put all ethnic minorities in the same basket as it doesn’t make sense to put all whites in the same basket’, he said. But that is precisely what Labour’s race proposals will do. As Sky News reports, Labour intends to set up a ‘body to collect data to assess ethnic-minority health outcomes’, to the end of ‘eradicat[ing] specific health disparities’.
Seeking to understand how different ailments affect different groups is no bad thing, of course. But such stats are now routinely tortured to bolster claims about ‘structural’, ‘institutional’ or ‘systemic’ racism. In turn, these concepts have become confusing to the point of being useless. Cambridge Dictionaries defines structural racism as ‘laws, rules or official policies in a society that result in and support a continued unfair advantage to some people and unfair or harmful treatment of others based on race’. Which is probably what most people think they mean when they reach for that phrase. But what laws, rules or policies could you point to that brought about the disparity in severe cases of Covid-19 for, say, British Asians – within an NHS that, incidentally, is disproportionately run by British Asians? Besides, even if a different set of policies might serve certain groups better, that doesn’t mean the status quo bears the stench of racism. ‘Structural racism’ is now somewhere between a conspiracy theory – a way to connect dots and assign blame to nefarious, invisible forces – and a religious faith – an unshakeable belief that racism is not only real, but also all-powerful and ever-present.
This desperation to find racism and discrimination where it often isn’t trivialises genuine racism and discrimination. No one sensible is suggesting those things don’t exist. They just play, certainly by historical standards, a much more diminished role in British public life, with some horrendous exceptions, like the sulphurous Jew hatred that has exploded on to our streets of late. Indeed, insisting on seeing racism everywhere blunts our ability to spot and tackle the real deal. Plus, insisting that every racial disparity is proof positive of discrimination is a tactic that can be weaponised by bad actors of all kinds. What remains of the far right has started to repurpose the tricks of woke identity politics to construct an image of white male victimhood. ‘White Lives Matter’ is their pathetic new slogan.
Obsessing over race has also edged aside a concept that is actually incredibly useful for explaining material deprivation, poor health outcomes, poor educational attainment and much else besides. Namely, class. This is what Dr Raghib Ali was surely getting at when he pointed out that not all whites were Zoom jockeys during Covid just as not all minorities were Deliveroo riders. Similarly, we could trade statistics all day about which ethnic group is more or less likely to be in social housing, experience crime or have kids who are on free school meals, but one thing they will all no doubt share is the fact of being working class or poor. We can also slice up pay statistics any way you like, but it’s worth remembering that there is no ‘pay gap’ – racial, gender or otherwise – among those on the minimum wage.
Woke identitarians speak of the black or white or Asian experience as if they are monolithic and the only distinctions that matter; as if a white call-centre worker and a white oil magnate share an experience of ‘privilege’, while a black call-centre worker and a black oil magnate share an experience of ‘structural racism’. This isn’t only nonsensical, it mitigates against the class-based solutions and solidarity that would lift up working-class people of all hues. This ‘class-first’ approach is routinely derided on the woke left as at best ‘reductionist’ and at worst racist, because it ‘centres’ the white working class. But this turns the truth on its head. Given the British working class contains a disproportionate number of ethnic minorities, a class-first approach would disproportionately benefit ethnic minorities.
How depressingly predictable that Labour, the alleged party of the working class, wants to demolish class politics and champion woke racialism. Indeed, it seems to have imbibed the identitarian script wholesale. There’s even talk of ‘reviewing the school curriculum to ensure it is diverse’. So, at the next election, Labour will be the party of ‘decolonising the curriculum’, which has become a byword in academia for removing ‘dead white European males’ from reading lists on the obnoxious grounds that black or Asian people simply don’t ‘get’ Shakespeare, Chaucer or Dickens. This is one of many areas where woke racism is indistinguishable from old-fashioned racism. Both apparently see ethnic minorities as thick and not actually British.
Labour’s race proposals reflect everything that’s wrong with the new ‘anti-racism’, ‘diversity, equity and inclusion’ ideology or whatever else we might want to call it. Firstly, it fails to explain or address the inequalities and deprivations that exist in society, elbowing aside multiracial class solidarity in favour of racialised infighting. Secondly, it reifies notions of racial difference, encouraging ethnic minorities to see themselves as permanent victims while imposing the mantle of privilege on working-class whites with little to no privilege. Thirdly, this movement’s unspoken mantra, that disparity equals discrimination, is a recipe for never-ending race-baiting. For there will probably always be some differences in preferences, culture and choices between different groups, however you choose to define them. The idea that, under the right system, we would find perfectly proportionate numbers of all groups represented in all industries, professions, sports, even hobbies (there is now an annual row about why Britain’s largely urban-dwelling ethnic minorities don’t tend to visit the countryside), is nonsensical when you think about it for longer than 30 seconds. And yet we are being conditioned to see any disproportion as proof of racism and a prompt for another round of self-flagellation and soul-searching.
The aim of woke leftism is not to defeat racism, but to continue fighting it forever and ever and ever, in ersatz form. To this end, no progress can ever be acknowledged. Racism, we’re told, is as bad as it’s ever been. Perhaps worse than it’s ever been – only more covert than overt. We got a glimpse of this way of thinking this week from Anneliese Dodds, Labour’s equalities chief, when she said, ‘it has never been more important to deliver race equality’. As Rakib Ehsan puts it witheringly elsewhere: ‘This is a bizarre intervention, considering the significant progress Britain has made on this front. Is it more urgent now than in the 1960s…?’ The ‘correct’ answer is yes, apparently.
By taking the knee to woke identity politics, Keir Starmer is no doubt hoping to carve out some sort of legacy, if and when he becomes our next prime minister. While his economic aspirations seem increasingly meagre, at least he’ll have a ‘landmark’ piece of race-relations legislation to call his own. But it would be a disaster for the country. The Race Equality Act would represent not a step towards realising racial equality, but the entrenchment of woke identity politics within British life. Its only achievement will be to create a vast racial bureaucracy that will fuel racial tension and encourage people to see themselves as members of distinct groups, with conflictual interests and experiences, rather than workers with a common cause.
And even then it won’t be enough for the identitarians Starmer seems so keen to please. Dr Shabna Begum, interim chief of identitarian charity the Runnymede Trust, has welcomed the Race Equality Act, but warns it ‘fall[s] short of addressing the formidable scale of inequalities that shape the experiences and opportunities of people of colour’. ‘Committing to address structural racial inequality needs to understand that racism doesn’t simply arise when the system fails’, she says, ‘but that racism is actually sewn into the very fabric of the system itself’. Human-rights lawyer Jacqueline McKenzie, a member of the task force which worked on Labour’s proposals, doesn’t think Labour’s plans go far enough, either. She has accused the party of ‘just doing something for the sake of doing something’ and called for tougher ‘enforcement mechanisms’ and for ‘black firms’ to gain greater access to state contracts.
The botched rollout of the Race Equality Act this past week reminds us that identity politics is always a trap. The launch event was moved and scaled back at the last minute, following threats of protests by ‘pro-Palestine’ activists, who are upset that Starmer has expressed lukewarm support for Israel in its war on the genocidal anti-Semites of Hamas. A small, behind-closed-doors event went ahead instead, which various organisations claim to have been excluded from. According to Sky News, those who did attend were ‘quite agitated’ by what they saw, describing the atmosphere as ‘jingoistic’ with ‘Union flags everywhere’. Diane Abbott MP, who remains suspended from Labour for saying that Jewish people don’t experience racism, has also given disparaging quotes to the press, as relations between Starmer and the woke left remain fractious. A glimpse of the divisive future Labour has in store for us.
Tom Slater is editor of spiked. Follow him on Twitter: @Tom_Slater_
Pictures by: Getty.
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